Parenting the Mental Health Generation

Talking About Trauma

November 18, 2021 Jessica Hutchinson, LCPC, with My Red Said Season 1 Episode 1
Parenting the Mental Health Generation
Talking About Trauma
Show Notes Transcript

It's not easy to talk about mental health, but it is vitally important in caring for it, and there are ways to start the conversations. That's why Jessica Hutchison, LCPC, created My Red Said, a mental health awareness campaign inspired by the pandemic. And now it's coming to Northbrook!

In this episode, Jessica joins Amy O.  (aka the mom) and Dr. Lisa (aka the psychologist) to talk about My Red Said, why discussing mental health is critical, and how to talk to our kids about the trauma they are experiencing. When you tune in, you'll also find out how you can participate in CATCH's My Red Said campaign in Northbrook starting today, September 1, 2021. 

This is the conversation you aren’t having with your kids' doctors and teachers because time doesn’t allow it. Or, with your friends, because they just don’t get it. So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation because mental health matters.

Amy O. is the founder and Dr. Lisa is an active board member of CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health a 501c3 based organization along the north shore of Chicago with a mission to empower families to foster resilience and prioritize mental health and emotional wellness in their children through educational programming, access to  resources, and peer support.

To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org or follow us on social media @catchiscommunity.

For more information on CATCH's My Red Said September, 2021 campaign, click here.
For more information on Jessica Hutchison's practice and the My Red Said initiative ,
click here.

CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.

© CATCH 2022

Amy O. (00:10):

On today's CATCH Conversation, we're talking about why you're about to see red ribbons all over Northbrook and how they're going to support our mental health. Welcome. I'm Amy Oberholtzer, the Founder and Executive Director of CATCH Community Action Together for Children's Health based in Chicago's Northern suburbs.

Dr. Lisa (00:30):

And I'm Dr. Lisa Novak. I'm a licensed clinical psychologist and as a CATCH board member, I'm the liaison between CATCH and the mental health providers in our community.

Amy O. (00:42):

And together, Lisa and I are the hosts of CATCH Conversations, a place where we discuss the topics that concern us as loved ones of young people, struggling with their mental health.

Dr. Lisa (00:53):

Today, we're speaking with Jessica, Hutchison, a licensed clinical professional counselor from Barrington and the creator of My Red Said, a mental health public awareness campaign. Jessica started My Red Said in response to the pandemic and the isolation and trauma that many have experienced

Amy O. (01:12):

The My Red Said campaign invites people to write messages of hope and inspiration on hearts that hang all around town, encouraging people to stop, gather, and start the mental health conversation by asking one another. "What does your red say?" Jessica's here today to help us kick off My Red Said in Northbrook and talk about how it can help all of us.

Dr. Lisa (01:38):

So put on your AirPods, take this 20 minutes for you and join our conversation with Jessica.

Amy O. (01:45):

So thanks again, Jessica, for being with us. And let's just jump right in.

Jessica Hutchison (01:50):

Happy to be here.

Amy O. (01:53):

Why did you launch My Red Said last spring?

Jessica Hutchison (01:59):

My Red Said, um, came out of very much a bleeding heart clinician. So when April, 2020 hit and they started talking about just how this COVID was going to go in the pandemic. I just had an intuitive sense that there would be a substantial amount of isolation that was occurring. And to be honest, I advocated and I talked and I pleaded and felt very much out of control in this world. So My Red Said was my way of giving back to the to the community. A way of saying let's be part of the solution, not, not the problem.

Amy O. (02:39):

And a lot of this campaign is focused on creating connections, starting the conversation. Can you, um, share with us a little bit about why that's so important when it comes to our mental health

Jessica Hutchison (02:54):

First? I think I will say that one of the things I specialize in and I work exclusively in is traumatic loss. So sudden and traumatic loss. And what we see with sudden and traumatic loss is an individual who feels very misunderstood by the world and when they are trying to talk or to communicate how they're feeling and they don't feel understood, what do they do? They isolate right. They turn inward, they start staying home more. They, they stop talking. And so with My Red Said, and the importance of conversation was trying to educate people on the importance of reaching out for help, the importance of connection in, in the world. It's one of the core, it's one of the core needs that we have as human beings. And so it was to really educate people on how connection is directly connected for lack of a better term with mental health.

Dr. Lisa (03:51):

Absolutely. And I would, I would echo that and say that, you know, when we think about resilience factors and what actually helps protect us from, um, mental illness or from falling further into a state of depression or increased anxiety. So many times people talk about connection with others as being something that really does serve as that protective factor.

Amy O. (04:17):

And so in part, are you saying that the connection that you were establishing with My Red Said was a way of saying we have a shared experience here, so that's how we're connecting. And, and so you aren't as misunderstood as you might feel because this experience is in fact a shared one. Is that kind of what you were aiming for Jessica?

Jessica Hutchison (04:42):

Yes, absolutely. So it's a way of saying, Hey, I'm having a really hard time now. And another person saying I am too, right? So that shared experience in knowing that you aren't alone and the pandemic and the isolation that went with the pandemic made that a lot more difficult. We weren't meeting our friends. We weren't talking outside of schools. A lot of the places where we naturally just congregate and have those conversations were stripped away from us. So it was a way to say we are all simultaneously experiencing the exact same thing at the exact same time. So let's come together and talk about that even if we can't physically be together.

Dr. Lisa (05:24):

And one of the things I loved so much in hearing about the campaign too, is that not only does it send the message, you are not alone, but it, it actually serves as a means by which to initiate that conversation. Because sometimes it's actually just hard to even find a way to reach out to somebody else, even if you have that sort of unspoken mutual understanding. And so this creates language and a space around being able to, to take that first step that often so many people are just too afraid to take.

Amy O. (05:59):

So can I take this trauma conversation just one step further and ask you, is it important to have kids acknowledge the trauma that we've experienced over the last 16 months and well, yeah. Let me just have you answer that. And then I'll kind of follow up a bit.

Jessica Hutchison (06:22):

100%. Um, I've been doing a lot of educating on what exactly trauma is and how often do I hear individuals who come in my office, um, or friends that just reach out and say, well, I shouldn't feel this way because look at all these great things I have, or I'm very blessed to have this, so what's wrong with me? What's going on. Right. And so trauma in and of itself is from Greek origin. It means wound, right? And so trauma is an, is a wound that we have that is unhealed and really, or it is healed, but it has a lot of scar tissue around it, right? So when you hit it, it still kind of hurts, but trauma is not necessarily an experience that happens to us. It's our response to the event that can create the trauma. So I always talk about COVID COVID in the pandemic from a place of worldview, which is something I have done and taught about from a traumatic loss, sudden loss perspective.

Jessica Hutchison (07:22):

When you suddenly and tragically lose somebody, your entire world is flipped upside down. So when you go out, nothing looks the same. Nothing feels the same, right? Our worldview shifts. So COVID, and the pandemic itself changed every single person's worldview. It flipped it upside down. Places that seem safe, no longer feel safe, right? Even going into stores, going into schools, you know, mask, no mask. This person does this, doesn't. At the end of the day, the world just doesn't feel as safe as it did before. And so that is why there is such an importance in talking about trauma and specifically understanding how another human's worldview has changed as a result of it.

Dr. Lisa (08:17):

And, and to add to that further, I think, you know, sometimes what we do inadvertently is almost try to quiet our conversation around these things, because we, as parents and caregivers and school staff members are scared ourselves. We don't really know what's happening. We're experiencing our own very heavy, negative emotions. And we're afraid to show that to our children because we think that that's gonna make this harder. It's gonna make it worse. And so we don't talk about it and we put on a smile and we pretend that it's fine, even though they are, um, always smart enough to see through that. And to know that we're not really fine. And I, I think it's just so important to remember that that feels in the moment, like it might be the right thing to do, but often actually just exacerbates the concerns inside the children. Um, and that we want to be able to open up that dialogue. We want to help give them the language when they don't have the words to talk about these feelings that are brewing inside of them. Um, and to just create that safe space where we are saying to them, it's okay to not be okay right now. I don't really feel okay right now either. Um, you know, let's, let's talk about it.

Jessica Hutchison (09:36):

And Lisa, I I'll piggyback on that real quick too. And yes, kids are incredibly intuitive. Their intuitive sense is just spot on every single time. Right. So they can feel when something seems off. And what I think a lot of times people don't know is kids fill out a narrative, right? Our brain actually rewards us for creating a narrative when we don't understand something. So it can become problematic with our kids, with our adolescents who don't have a lot of life experience to draw from. So they will say, okay, here's what's going on with mom or my teacher or my dad. And that, again, like to your point, Lisa is the importance of talking to our kids and, and normalizing their experience and our own to say, yeah, this is hard. Mom's never been through this either. I've had that conversation with my kids. Heck I've had it in my office with my clients to say, this is the first time that I'm simultaneously going through the exact same experience that you are too. And it's hard.

Amy O. (10:43):

You know, I was, I was gonna ask you guys as the, um, non mental health professional in this conversation about just how one goes about opening up that conversation with your kids and Jessica, I think you got us started by saying it's really important for us as parents and caregivers and professionals, to be vulnerable to our own experiences. What are some specific ways that you could open a conversation with a child? And I realize it probably varies by age, but if you were someone who was struggling yourself, as many of us are, can you guys give us a few specific openers and just allow them the space to share and connect about what's happening?

Jessica Hutchison (11:37):

And you're right. It is age dependent. And I think from a more adult young adult, the, the age old, how are you? Right. And you get the robotic responses of, oh, I'm fine. Oh, I'm just getting through the day. And it's slowing that down and saying, no, no, no. How are you? Right. How are you really doing? Because I know it's been hard for me. How are you doing? People don't even, they robotically answer it, right? Because people ask them that all the time. But when you re-ask it from an emotional standpoint and looking at them and saying, no, no, I really wanna know how you're doing. They answer. I tell you every single time they answer and with my adolescence, um, a lot of the adolescents, I normalize it like, Hey, how is it? Ugh, it's fine. Really? Cause I re I would have a hard time. I remember high school. I would have a hard time with all of these changes that are going on. And when they know that you have also struggled, they will lean in. But so often kids, adults, you name it, sit in inside themselves and think I'm the only one that's feeling this way in the moment you show them a little bit of vulnerability and say, wait a minute, I've struggled too. Or I am, or this would be hard. It opens a window.

Dr. Lisa (13:01):

Absolutely. And one specific activity that I actually often recommend to families is to take some time, either at dinner or around bedtime, um, and do something like highs and lows of the day or roses and thorns, as some people call it and really talking about one thing that went well during the day. And one thing that didn't, um, and I think that we don't talk enough about that thing that didn't go well. Um, and, and again, exactly, to what you're saying, it sort of gives this false image to, to our children that, you know, mom and dad don't have problems or, you know, these, my teacher isn't facing, um, any of these issues. And so I shouldn't talk about the things that are hard for me and in even being able to dialogue about, um, my own challenges from that day we're also sharing the language to others about how did I take care of myself when things got hard? How did I work towards solving that problem? How did I show flexibility and pivot when things didn't go the way that I wanted them to. And there's a lot of teaching that can occur in, in just relaying some of those experiences over. Um, and so again, like you said, being vulnerable in that way, uh, can be, can be a real asset to them in forming their own language and narrative.

Amy O. (14:27):

I feel like it's important to insert here that these kinds of conversations may not be normal for a lot of families. And it isn't as though we're just introducing a pandemic and its challenges into what might have already been open and vulnerable conversations. It's as though we're asking them to not only open themselves up to feeling talk, but then also insert into feeling, talk, the fact that that we're in the middle of a huge pandemic is, does that sound right to you guys?

Jessica Hutchison (15:02):

Yes. For sure. You know, I have found, we are so afraid to get it wrong, right? With our kids. You know, as parents, as educators, as clinicians, we are so afraid to get it wrong. And what I found is when you lean in from an emotional standpoint, you never get it wrong. You never ever do, because that's just the human experience. And there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with emotional conversations because let's face it. We do not live in a society that has encouraged emotional conversations. And I tell people, and, some of the things I hear all the time is they're so angry. They're so angry, they're so angry. And one of the things that I use personally is, and I've used it with my own. My, um, my eight year old is helping her understand that anger is a valid emotion, but it oftentimes doesn't travel alone. So I always say with anger, anger, doesn't like to eat lunch alone. It likes to be with somebody else. And for my younger kiddos, that has been really helpful with helping them tap into another feeling that they have. And whether that be loneliness, I've got loneliness a lot, um, disappointment, sadness, fear, all those icky ones that we as adults don't even like to talk about. And so being able to normalize that emotion is part of being human can be profoundly helpful.

Amy O. (16:36):

Do you have anything that you would say to parents who find it very hard or terrifying or uncomfortable to hear their children actually voice that they're feeling those things?

Jessica Hutchison (16:47):

I think for me, I would say, yay. <laugh> I know that fear, but oh my gosh, they're talking to you. So it's not a bad thing. When your kids tell you something that scares you, that is a good thing. Because if they're not telling you that thing, that scares you, they're holding it inside. And that's what we don't want. And I will also say to parents, and I mean, as a clinician myself, it's okay to say, you don't know, but guess what? We're gonna figure it out together. And I'm here along this journey, but you don't have to have all the answers. In fact, sometimes it helps when you don't, because then you, you listen to understand a lot more.

Dr. Lisa (17:32):

And I think we could take it one step further to say, you know, in regard to those parents, having those fears, the same way that anger doesn't travel alone. And, and, and I love that so much. And it's really always accompanied by some of these other emotions. I think emotions don't travel alone and they're often accompanied by behaviors. And I think so much of what we're seeing right now is an increase in maladaptive behaviors, the tantrums, the regressions, the furthering into, you know, withdrawal and isolation and all the different ways that our, our kids maybe are expressing themselves without finding that language. And the more that they do start to talk about it and label it and explore it. Um, as scary as that might sound to the parent. The, the better they'll be able to actually manage it. And I think you'll start to see a real shift in what this functionally looks like in the home with their behavior, with their sleep patterns, with their eating patterns, with, um, you know, their meltdowns and, and all of those pieces, I think will start to serve as a reassurance to families of like, oh, this actually might be a really positive thing that they're starting to, to talk about this.

Jessica Hutchison (18:50):

And I think we also have to remind parents that, you know, in our community, my child left school on March 13th, 2020 and thought she'd be back in two weeks and then she didn't go back for over a year and then had to pivot to remote learning and the Zoom struggles and not seeing friends and worried about grandparents. That is a lot for a, a small child that was a lot for an adult to experience. Right. So I think it's just important to remind everybody how much their, their little worlds in our own worlds changed over and over and over throughout the past 18 months.

Amy O. (19:36):

Jessica, can you briefly shed a quick light on, um, these maladaptive behaviors that we might be seeing in our teenagers,

Jessica Hutchison (19:48):

Um, with our teens? I mean, I'm seeing a lot of, kind of, one of two things, either one, um, there's an, there's an increase in some risky behaviors because of the time that was spent kind of outside of the classroom. So, I mean, we've, we really have to shine a light on drugs and alcohol more so than we probably have been. Um, and really to no fault of anybody's, it's just a, a lot of time that these kiddos had on their own to get into things they're impulsive, their brains aren't developed. Right. Um, also we are seeing in our practice at least, um, a lot of anxiety based behaviors, so ranging from our younger all the way to adolescents. So, uh, OCD type behaviors or certain ticks, um, that our children are doing. And I think those are, they're all a way of trying to find control, right? To get a gain a sense of control in a world that seems very out of control. And so it's important to see that maladaptive behavior for what it's for, and it's not something's wrong with this person necessarily it's they are, they are desperately trying to find control, whether it be through risky behaviors, through OCD type behaviors through isolation where they don't want to leave the house, right. They're all trying to just normalize and, and settle their own systems.

Dr. Lisa (21:26):

And one, one thing I would add to that, that I've seen a lot of in my adolescent clients has been just a, a complete drop off in what will broadly call motivation. And so, you know, students who used to have all their work turned in and we're studying hard for their tests and, um, you know, practicing their, their instruments or their sports or whatever it may be, have just stopped seeming to have the capacity to put forth the effort and, uh, the time and the strength to do the things they used to do. Um, and so for many it's coming across as lower grades and work, that's not getting turned in and calls from teachers and, and things like that.

Amy O. (22:12):

You know, one of the things that we're hearing a lot at CATCH is I'm really concerned about my kids' academic standing. I'm really concerned that my kids' socialization skills are tanking. How can we reassure parents that in fact, again, this is a collective experience and how can we make them feel a little more comfortable about where their kids are along those two lines?

Jessica Hutchison (22:42):

I think this is one of the most important reasons why we need to have conversations with our children to understand their emotions and to understand where they're at and how they're feeling. And if we break down just the neurology of it is can a brain that is under stress learn. No, it can. When we're talking to our children about feelings and emotions, it's that it's a way to grasp what is going on inside their heads, right? And so that is figuratively and literally what's going on. So if we have a child or an adolescent who's caught in what we like to call this stress response, right? That fight or flight type of feeling, good luck, getting them to learn because it's not act, there's a certain part of the brain. That's not being activated at that time. So we, yes, it's important to talk about education and kind of that education loss, but it's even more important to talk about feelings and emotions, because if that is not addressed your brain, can't learn these things.

Amy O. (23:51):

Thank you. That I think that was a really important thing for our communities to hear, especially as we returned back to school, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, you know, for me, the pandemic offered some silver linings. I got to spend a lot more time with my adult daughter. I got to sort of be okay with staying in my pajamas and watching a lot more television and things of that nature. Do you guys see any silver linings for our kiddos through a mental health lens as a result of this pandemic? Or can you foresee that there will be some as time goes on?

Jessica Hutchison (24:31):

I think both personally and professionally parents are very involved and they are seeing a lot of things they did not see before. And that is very much a silver lining that's come out of this. So understanding how much a child is struggling or not struggling or interpreting something a certain way. I think we've gotten a lot of insight into that. I will also say personally, this whole pandemic flipped my world upside down. And I have said so many times in my office that I had to find new strategies to cope with my own anxiety of what was gonna happen. It's always funny. Because whenever I tell a client that they always laugh, like I don't have anxiety and I'm like, it's a normal human emotion. I've got it like everybody else. And so learning how to manage my own it better than I was before. This also helped me to help my kids go through it as well. And it really brings you down to their level a lot more than I think we were before that it was so easy to just say, it's not a big deal, right? Like this isn't a big deal. It'll, you'll be fine. And I think we, we couldn't do that over this past year and a half. And so there is a lot more insight into our kiddos experience than I believe before this pandemic hit.

Amy O. (25:52):

So keeping mental health on the front burner even afterward is gonna be important, because maybe we've got parents and caregivers who are more open to hearing it.

Jessica Hutchison (26:01):

Exactly.

Dr. Lisa (26:02):

Absolutely. And I would just add to that too. You know, one thing I really saw a shift in is how we're prioritizing our time. I think as a community in general, we' very overscheduled with our activities and extracurriculars. And then all of a sudden that all came to a halt and um, you know, my, my guess is were, and I think we already are sort of returning to that to some degree, but I think there's room for balance there room to, to leave time for free play, to leave time for downtime and having our kids be bored and having to navigate a little bit on their own what they're gonna do. Um, and not jumping straight back to filling every moment with, you know, somebody else's structured activities.

Jessica Hutchison (26:46):

For sure. It's part of post traumatic growth and post traumatic growth is something I, I worked on long before the pandemic in my office after traumatic loss and that post-traumatic growth. One of the pieces of it is you realize what does and does not matter. And I think we've been able to, I always call it kind of weed our garden. And you know, when you weed your garden, sometimes there's weeds that look like flowers, right? I still have a five year old who picks dandelions for me. And it's these, you know, she thinks these are beautiful flowers, even though they're weeds. I think the pandemic also allowed a lot of us to weed our garden and say, what do we need in here? And what, what don't we need in this garden,

Amy O. (27:28):

Jessica, we really appreciate you coming. Lisa, it's been a blast to talk to you. Following in the footsteps of some of the podcasters we listen to. We're gonna ask you Jessica to let us know what you do to calm yourself when you're feeling escalated.

Jessica Hutchison (27:45):

This is such a good question, because I really had to do that in April, 2020 and what I basically did now, I, I use this as a strategy with the clients I work with is I built my own hierarchy of needs. So anybody who's taken psych 101 knows Maslow's hierarchy of needs that we have as humans and I built Jessica's hierarchy of needs and it's what do I need to maintain a sense of balance? And whenever I feel unbalanced in the world, which tends to happen a lot right now, I look at my, my hierarchy of needs. And on there I've got sleep. I, I prioritize sleep. I really try not to get less than seven shoot for eight hours of sleep. What am I putting in my body? What am I fueling my body with? Who have I hung out with or talked to over this past week? Have I been consuming data and social media feeds or have I been connecting with my best friends and sitting with my family? Um, meditation became a big part of, um, my daily kind of my daily rituals that I do. And so when I, and, and exercise exercise is the last one, that's kind of always been on there, but that's what I do to stay balanced is I made my hierarchy of needs. And those are the pillars in which I I'm able to remain balanced. When I stick to those.

Dr. Lisa (29:05):

What is the one message that you want everyone to know about mental health?

Jessica Hutchison (29:11):

It, it is one of the things that connects every single one of us as human beings. You know, this idea that, well, I don't have mental health struggles, but they do is just inaccurate. We all do every single one of us. And rather that be just a daily thing or something that is more consistent that may differ, but we all know what it's like to feel nervous or anxious or really sad and lonely and which can be depression, right? We, we all know. So chances are, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and just say, here's something I've struggled with, chances are the person will respond with, oh my gosh, me too,

Dr. Lisa (30:00):

Jessica, thanks for your time. And your commitment to our community's mental health.

Amy O. (30:05):

Thank you so much.

Jessica Hutchison (30:07):

Happy to be here.

Amy O. (30:09):

CATCH's My Red Said campaign runs throughout September. Thank you to the Northbrook Civic Foundation for their generous financial support. Everyone is invited to stop by a station at one of the downtown Northbrook locations. You can find a list of the stations on our website catchiscommunity.org. We know that your messages of hope encouragement or personal struggle will start important conversations and make a difference for our collective mental health.

Dr. Lisa (30:36):

My Red Said stations are also open at the Northbrook library and the local junior highs Field, Maple, Wood Oaks and Northbrook Junior High, where students and staff are encouraged to participate. Our promotional partners include School Districts, 27, 28, 30 and 31. The Village of Northbrook, the Northbrook Public Library, the Northbrook Park District and North Suburban YMCA as well as Youth Services of Glenview Northbrook. Go to catchiscommunity.org for more information on My Red Said. "What does your red say?"

Amy O. (31:16):

Thanks for joining us today for a CATCH Conversation,

Dr. Lisa (31:21):

Stay current on all CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @catchiscommunity or by visiting our website catchiscommunity.org.

Amy O. (31:31):

If you don't have your mental health, you don't have anything. There's a community of people out there that understand find it.